Monday, February 8, 2010

Chemical Balance by Jean Shin

Chemical Balance , Jean Shin

A beautiful installation by Jean Shin at the University Art Museum in Albany, NY.  Born in Seoul, Shin now lives and works in New York City creating delicate installations that "transform castoff materials into elegant expressions of identity and community."

This particular installation, Chemical Balance, reminded me of Damien Hirst and his overwhelming popularity in Korea and also of a recent New York Times article titled The Americanization of Mental Illness.  Shin's piece references the same Americanized dependence on prescription medicine mentioned in the article. 
Chemical Balance speaks to our culture’s over-consumption of prescription drugs and our bodies’ dependency on these medications. The piece acts like a group portrait, mapping our society’s chemical intake. The illuminated structures radiate with an intense orange glow, suggesting that issues of health reach far beyond the physical. 
To create this work, thousands of empty prescription pill bottles were collected from nursing homes, pharmacies and individuals’ medicine cabinets. Like stalactites and stalagmites, the constructions hang down from above and grow upwards from the floor below. 

The ubiquity of Americanized medicine has changed our vernacular.  It is now 'our' dependence and 'our' society; there is an arrogance to Shin's choice of pronoun, and an absoluteness.

Shin takes society's reaction and interaction with the mentally ill to a place of beauty. The soft glow coming from within the clustered pill bottles draws us in, beckoning us to the eerie chandeliers before we realize the danger they represent.
Medicine and drugs are recurring themes in Hirst’s work as means of altering perception and providing a short-lived cure, ineffectual in the face of death. Here the honeycomb operates as the central metaphor: it potentially attracts flies, only to lure them on to a quick and brutal death. - Elizabeth Manchester